Friday, February 29, 2008

Interview: Evan Venegas

Last fall, I stumbled onto a small shop and gallery in Long Island City that was showing the work of an artist whose work really impressed me. It was the work of Evan Venegas.

I decided to ask him a few questions about his work, so here's my conversation with him:

--"Broadway Boogie Woogie," 1943; Museum of Modern Art

Ryan Witte: Who are some of your greatest influences from the history of Art? In reading your statement about taking inspiration from the city, Mondrian's Broadway Boogie Woogie pieces popped into my head, though obviously your work is very different from his.

Evan Venegas: The more I learn about an artist who broke new ground, the more I am inspired by their work: Abstract Expressionism, Surrealism, Impressionism; Kandinsky for writing "Concerning the Spirituality in Art," a book that changed the way I see art; Gustave Courbet for being the rebel who invented the Avant Garde; Ad Reinhardt for painting the last painting! Just to name a few.

RW: I see you're inspired by electronic music; me, too. What/ who are you listening to a lot lately?

EV: I listen to Sunday Soul every Sunday (internet broadcast), I listen to Dub Reggae, and anything that my brother Onionz is working on in his studio. Electronic music is so broad and I like that title. My brother always laughs when people try to label his sound and I understand why. I think that is really limiting to label what an artist is doing.

RW: Do you usually have music playing while you paint?

EV: I do, I also really like listening to talk radio, like informative programs such as "Please Explain" on WNYC. During the summer I will always listen to the Mets game on the radio, that is probably my favorite. You know baseball is not the most fast paced game in the world, so the commentators have a real knack for keeping the crowd interested during the lulls of the game.

RW: What kind of studio space do you have and is it in Long Island City? What kind of environment do you consider most conducive to your work?

EV: I do have a studio in LIC and I really like it. I have all the things I need here and it is very comfortable. It takes me a little bit of time to get situated in a new space, maybe a couple of months to a year. Things work really well when I don't have to think about where my paints or brushes are and it becomes like a natural instinct; this way I don't have to break my concentration. I have to have a place where I can make coffee and tea.

--"42BW," oil on canvas, 2008

--"ISLET," oil on wood, 2008

--"OUTOL," oil on canvas, 2008

RW: I see your process is akin to stream-of-consciousness, but the sort of "objects" in your work often look fairly complex, geometrically. Do you have an image in your head before you begin and let it evolve on the canvas, or do you just sort of start painting and see where it goes?

EV: Well, that is an interesting question because I can't really answer either of those with a "yes" or "no." Sometimes I have a glimpse in my mind of some images before I start painting. Then once I start working, I don't paint what I visualized in the past, but sometimes those images come through. I do sort of build on things; I don't just let things evolve without directing it the way I want. I did in the past just paint in a way where images just flowed uncontrollably. I noticed that I was painting the same painting over and over. Maybe I still am now. These days though, I do build over existing shapes and work more three-dimensionally; that has expanded a lot of what I do.

--"CONSTRUCT-C," latex on wood, 2006

--"PB3," oil on wood, 2007

--"PORTEA," oil on canvas, 2008

RW: Your forms are also very sculptural, in a way. Have you done any work in three dimensions, or are you more intrigued by, say, the mysterious, ambiguous quality the forms take because they're represented in paint?

EV: Well, I have done some 3-D pieces and some of the stuff I am doing in the studio is more sculptural. I do really love the flat plane that is a "canvas;” it has a special place in my heart.

RW: Working on wood seems to give your recent work a real sharpness and clarity, while oil is a somewhat warm, organic medium. Does that relationship complement this idea of the human experience of the city, or is there another reason you've been working with these materials?

EV: Well, I do like to switch it up; it sort of keeps me on my toes. I haven't been able to use oils for a little bit now, as I have switched to acrylics due to an allergy. I started using oils when I was twelve and I guess it sort of caught up to me. I love canvas for painterly organic pieces, this allows for the paint to really speak and where I feel that I can really express myself with the medium. With wood, I find that I get a more graphic hard-edged result, so I'll use that when I am feeling like I want crisp shapes that do lean more towards the industrial side. I don't find myself consciously deciding which one to use, unless I have a specific reason. I find that for smaller scale work I like to work on wood and for larger scale I like to work on canvas, maybe because the canvas is lighter.

--"PB3," oil on wood, 2007

--"ALG," oil on canvas, 2008

--"DSTR," oil on canvas, 2008

RW: In my first correspondence, I said some of your pieces look like the inside of the body of a cyborg. Is there something there about our experience of ourselves, bodies, in the city--in a highly mechanized, digital age--or was I way off base?

EV: You aren't off base at all. The shape constructions I use are all influenced by the urban surroundings. The human body is a big part of the fabric that makes up the cityscape, although I am not painting representationally, at all. I do notice that sometimes a soft, rounded, delicate, yet heavy shape is necessary to bring together the painting that I am working on. That sort of shape I equate to a human symbol, maybe it's an appendage or intricate detail. Sometimes the symbols are intricate, like the way eyelashes whimsically flow and repeat themselves alongside each other.

--"WIRING," oil on wood, 2008

--"SCRB1," Giclee print, 2008

The digital question you raise is interesting. I know that visually I draw a lot from the Industrial, the way plumbing was built 50 years ago and how bricks were laid. I think we interact differently within the digital realm than with the concrete objects of the city. I am inspired by digital technology and how it is changing our culture. That is some of what I am doing in my new work like "SCRB1" and "WIRING;" the objects are isolated and contained. I sometimes see how the digital age makes us way more complex as individuals, yet we seem to have become so much more isolated.

RW: I see you went to Parsons. So did I, for one semester anyway. Wasn't that Color Theory class with all the Color-aid paper insane?

EV: Oh, yeah. I'm really glad I was there for Foundation Year. I learned so much in those classes. I was there for only Foundation and I was glad to get that training. The San Francisco Art Institute was almost a polar opposite, where we were given almost no structure and complete freedom. I learned so much from the professional artists helping me to understand my vision and how to make that my primary goal.

Venegas has prints and also t-shirts at his online shop, by the way. I got one of the shirts, they're quite nice.

©2008, Ryan Witte

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